Ardern may have won the battle, but not public opinion

Please share this story - thanks

By Michael Coles

Anyone watching Counterspin Media‘s comprehensive live stream of police confronting protesters at Parliament on Wednesday 2 March will be in no doubt that officers wearing full-face helmets and body armour were intent on raising tensions with campaigners calling for an end to vaccine mandates.

Anyone watching could guess where this was going and how it would all end. What I knew for sure is that whatever was going down would take place in time to make the 6pm ‘news’. And it did.

After hours of pushing and shoving against lines of unarmed and peaceful members of the public protecting ‘Camp Wellington’ the police made their move, pepper spray in one hand, riot shield in the other, and a forget-me stick swinging on their belts.

They barged through the crowd and began pulling down people’s tents, throwing plastic chairs, cool boxes, and sleeping bags into a pile – turning an organised protest settlement into something that looked like a municipal landfill.

It was all going to plan until a fire broke out inside a tent sitting beneath a tree in the playground section of the grounds. One commentator on the livestream claimed a police officer kicked over a power generator, another said it was a BBQ (more likely).

Unfortunately, some in the crowd of police and campaigners started tossing other items into the flames from off-camera – a plastic chair, an LPG gas bottle came close, and what looked like a tent or some other plastic sheeting. This turned the smoke jet black.

But with huge concrete blocks surrounding tent city – placed there by police weeks earlier – there was no way for fire engines to get close. But once their hoses were rolled out the fire was extinguished. Then police grabbed the hoses from the fire fighters and – taking a leaf out of Trevor Mallard’s book and being short of a water canon – started drenching campaigners. I’m not sure the fire service will be impressed with its gear being used for crowd control.

A fire breaks out while police raid ‘Camp Wellington’.

But at this point the scene was one of carnage, chaos, brute force, fire, water, violence and complete disorder – all in the grounds of Parliament. All done under Ardern’s watch.

By about 5.30pm most of the peaceful campaigners moved on – 22 days after the first ones arrived by virtue of a nationwide convoy – leaving behind a hardcore section of people who let the peaceful movement down by hurling anything they could find at police. And of course, that’s what made the news. Not the 12-plus hours of intimidation by the boys and girls in blue – most of whom likely signed-up to keep the peace in their local neighbourhood and help victims of crime.

Ardern gave a predictable speech – again, just in time for the 6pm news – thanking police for their work, condemning peaceful protesters, and taking loaded questions from the approved media.

During her speech, probably written last week, Ardern spoke of an “unlawful occupation” which of course it may or may not be because we keep being told by police commissioner Andy Coster that it is legal to hold protests in New Zealand (perhaps Ardern is the ultimate NIMBY – not in my back yard).

Ardern went on to say that in planning for the operation police expected “hostility, resistance and violence”. Yet, they appeared to be caught off guard. There are not too many riots in New Zealand…

“They planned for that because that is what they and Wellingtonians have experienced for several weeks,” claimed Ardern in her best school-ma’am pose.

She gave police and fire service workers her “deep admiration and thanks”. And I bet she is grateful too, just last week a judge agreed the vaccine mandate should not apply to police on religious grounds.

We have campaigners wanting the vaccine mandate removed. The police go to court and win, thanks to the Bill of Rights, that the vaccine mandate is unlawful. And the following week police turn on campaigners like they are vermin.

Ardern told the police they have been “calm”. I’m not sure we saw much that was calm as police thundered through crowds of people tossing their belonging into a pile.

Speaking as though she was at a school prefect badge award ceremony, a condescending Ardern told police: “Thank you for putting others before your selves”. Please step forward to collect your badge.

Then she turned to covid saying we are in the middle of a pandemic, this with a 96% vaccinated rate. Something just does not add up does it?

All campaigners wanted was an end to mandated vaccinations, so people could keep their jobs without being medicated.

All campaigners wanted was for Ardern to front up and speak to them, to hear their stories of lost jobs, split families, and vaccine injuries.

All Ardern did was ignore the people. Ghosting them before sending in militarised police officers.

The head of the police, Andy Coster, had said he did not want to repeat the scenes of the 1981 Springbok Tour when anti-apartheid campaigners in New Zealand clashed with police – just outside Parliament. Somehow, despite all the apparent planning, he managed to repeat those scenes perfectly.

1981 Springbok Tour protesters.

It’s impossible to guess what will happen next in the campaign to remove vaccine mandates (and vaccine passes).

Ardern and best mate Coster won the battle this week, but they have not won the hearts and minds of the general population.

Police have slipped down the scale of trusted upholders of law and the protection of the people – as they did in 1981. The fire brigade too need to ask themselves why they allowed their water hoses to be turned on members of the public.

And while Ardern may not care too much when it comes to the right to protest and to choose what goes in one’s arm, I hope her silent backbenchers may consider taking a stand some point soon. Their silence is deafening, drowned out by the screams of injustice and thuggery echoing across our green and pleasant land.

The campaigners will be back, backed by even more support at the moment it is needed. Timing is everything.

A line from Ardern’s speech sticks with me. She said: “We will not be defined by this.”

We won’t. She will.

Police stand on a placard telling the story of a vaccine injury.
Police stand on a placard telling the story of a vaccine injury.
Please share this story - thanks